Finding the Right Story
The team behind Dragon’s Blood took on an immense challenge: distill Dota’s overarching conflict into a digestible introduction for newcomers while making a story true to existing lore with plenty of items and references to other things in the game for Dota 2 fans. While there are many singular hero stories Studio Mir and showrunner Ashley Edward Miller could have chosen to tell, I was pleased to see them develop an adventure that could expand into a conflict that goes well beyond them, and largely do it well across the span of this series’ eight episodes.Dragon’s Blood successfully and quickly introduces the neverending cosmic power struggle between the Radiant and Dire, two immense beings that all characters side with, one way or another. Much like Dota 2’s story, their impact, whether seen or not, is cast across the series in successfully subtle ways. We see that through Dragon’s Blood protagonists Davion the Dragon Knight and Mirana, Princess of the Moon.We start with Davion, an honorable and affable man whose entire being changes after an encounter with an epic, almost mythical dragon being called an eldwurm. Though this is pulled straight out of Dragon Knight’s in-game character description, the way the story is molded in Dragon’s Blood makes his transformation from a man who hunts dragons to one who is also sometimes a massive dragon himself much more exciting. From there, Davion must find out just what’s happening to him and why a demon called Terrorblade is after the dragons. Terrorblade isn’t as present as I thought he’d be, but he serves as an excellent antagonist when he is around.
Then we have Mirana who is searching for sacred lotuses that were stolen from her goddess’ temple under her watch. Mirana’s failure sets her on her own adventure with her small but impressively strong companion Marci and her mount, Sagan. Though Mirana and Davion have very separate challenges, their quest to reach a place that could ultimately benefit both of them was a nice way to pair them. Even better, though the show doesn’t outright say it, they’re both struggling with similar internal conflicts, and that shared conflict helps them understand each other.
Going Beyond Character Descriptions
There are many gods in Dota. Some casually drink at bars, while others — like Mirana’s goddess, Selemene — demand fierce loyalty and love. Selemene is largely a mystery in Dota lore, so it’s disappointing that most of her time in the show makes what’s said about her character — a goddess who kindly aids the lost and wounded in exchange for their loyalty — feel like nothing but flagrant gaslighting. Selemene is abusive and selfish, which makes devotion from good people like Mirana feel weirdly misplaced. A flashback or even a brief scene of Selemene acting how she is described by her followers would have gone a long way.
Dragon’s Blood is rather short at only eight episodes, and other supporting characters like Selemene’s general and Mirana’s rival, Luna, would probably be a bit more fleshed out only if there was more time.
Characterization for the starring cast, however, is enjoyable. The initial tension between Davion, a man that’s used to being impressive and liked by all, and Mirana, a woman who is hard to impress and is generally headstrong, lends well to Studio Mir’s signature visual goofs (extreme facial expressions, twitching eyebrows, and plenty more) without having to lean on a singular character for occasional comic relief. The script is rather funny too, although it does seem like someone got a little too excited about dropping occasional F-bombs.
I was surprised by Invoker, the ageless mage Mirana and Davion seek out for answers to their problems. Not much else is known about him from Dota 2 other than that he craves knowledge above all else, and that left plenty of room for Dragon’s Blood to expand upon him as needed, and – no spoilers – I do like the direction Dragon’s Blood takes with him. Similarly, most of the series’ original characters, like the elf Fymryn, are done well enough and I expect we’ll see them make more impact in the second season (assuming that a second season happens, of course).
Building the World of Dota
Subtlety is Dragon’s Blood’s strength; the first half has many references to items, places, and beings that exist in Dota 2 lore, but they feel like little more than an Easter egg. For instance, if you’ve spent hundreds or thousands of hours in Dota 2, you’ll likely know why a certain, seemingly plain character is held in such high regard and wields power over those who should be considered many ranks above them. But to the uninitiated, it’s little more than a curious aside.
I do wish more Dota 2 items and creatures would have had a larger presence in the show after the first half, but I was greatly pleased with how much Dragon’s Blood adapts hero abilities and lore naturally. It’d be a bit strange if the characters had to accumulate imaginary experience points before popping their ultimate abilities.
And for only eight episodes, Dragon’s Blood moves. From beautiful forests to snowy mountains to a busy town filled with all sorts of beings, Davion and Mirana’s adventure shows off a pleasing variety of places and people. The customs of each area are well defined by their inhabitants, too. Again, though, I do wish we could have seen more kinds of creatures; yes, it’s called “Dragon’s Blood,” but the world of Dota 2 harbors so many more threats than just various kinds of dragons. For a world seemingly so filled with different beings, Dragon’s Bloods threats beyond humans, elves, and dragons are limited.
The action is great, though – and gory! I didn’t anticipate seeing several people being ripped in half or their skulls crushed, but I surely wasn’t disappointed by it either. Studio Mir does a good job mixing its larger computer-animated characters with the smaller hand-drawn ones in a majority of the bigger fights, but the combination does become a bit awkward in large crowd shots toward the end or when the shaky cam gets a bit excessive in the heat of the action.
Studio Mir does flex its animation skills throughout the series, though, particularly with Invoker. The mage’s magic is pretty much just limited to combat in the game, but in Dragon’s Blood, we see him use all sorts of interesting powers that made his episodes a lot of fun to watch. Why write with a quill and paper when you can use magic to write with glowing symbols in the air? Invoker may be rather reserved in personality, but not in style. Studio Muir’s animation is also nicely stylized in flashbacks and other intense scenes that call for extra drama.